Thursday, October 02, 2008

A slogan for Houston, freeways, energy, rail, AC, subsidies, and more

Continuing the smaller misc items from earlier this week:
The comparison also reminds me of a parallel I noticed when honeymooning in Australia, when my wife and I visited its two rival cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

Sydney is like the Dallas of Australia: Glitzier and a little too obsessed with getting attention for my tastes. Melbourne is more like Houston: More down-to-earth and content in its superiority to the point of not being excessively concerned that the easily-distracted might sometimes miss it.

May Houston remain contentedly superior, but never complaisant! A big part of its secret has been that it is freer than most cities, including its government not dictating to land owners what to do with their property. That freedom is being threatened once again, and we'll need to fight back....

Hmmm! Awhile back, I saw a bumper sticker saying something like, "Keep Austin Weird". Perhaps as the zoning fight heats up, supporters of freedom in land use could similarly display our sentiments: "Keep Houston Free". I like that.
I love that! Sign me up to buy the first one...

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At 8:28 AM, October 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take a look at the Texas Watchdog site. It is loaded with information that is publicly available but difficult to get for the average citizen. Check out the Houston City Council and Mayor disclosure statements. The city has it available, but you have to dig around to fine the right person, then it's only available during office hours. Texas Watchdog has put all of it online!

Bumper Sticker:

As for freeway funding and in general and all around funding from the feds, lets hope Judge Emmett and Mayor White made their case well. On top of that, our representatives can shine right now by saying they secured funding. As much as I'm against this bailout business going on right now at the Federal level, the recent version of the Senate bill contains about $8 Billion in funding for Hurricane Ike relief which explains why John and Kay voted yes. The funding is important, but it should be part of this bailout.

Urban big box stores have been very successful. Target built a great facility in downtown Minneapolis. Home Depot a cool facility in Manhattan. Wal-Mart has fought (prior to Katrina) to renovate a historic building in the French Quarter (Vieux Carre) of New Orleans for one of its neighborhood stores.

Costco's new facility at Wesleyan and Richmond would be one of the closer urban big box concepts (but still will a lot of surface parking). The potential for a lot of pedestrian traffic is high with a future light rail station and a lot of apartments on Cummins that retain a high occupancy rates.

At 9:02 AM, October 03, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Whereas I can see running into big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Kroger, etc. as a pedestrian, buying a handful of things, and walking out - I have a hard time seeing that being very common with Costco, which seems to be all about completely filling a cart (and then your trunk) with bulk items, whether you intended to or not. I agree it'll be close to the rail and lots of apartments - they just don't seem to sell many items that are easily walkable. Maybe they'll let you borrow/rent the cart and bring it back later... ;-)

At 12:04 PM, October 03, 2008, Blogger Gus Van Horn said...


I'm glad you like it!

Brian Phillips now offers just such a bumper sticker.


At 2:16 PM, October 05, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We are working on better walking experiences in a few niche areas of town, but I think it will be pretty limited until somebody invents a personal-sized A/C you can walk around with..."

Or until we reverse the societal wussification that has made it too hot to walk around in a city where the average annual temp. is 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

At 5:14 PM, October 06, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Or until we reverse the societal wussification that has made it too hot to walk around in a city where the average annual temp. is 66 degrees Fahrenheit."

I could make the same dependency argument with cell phones. Why can't we just wait until we get home to check answering machine. Or, even just happen to be home when someone calls. If you miss it, you miss it. It might not be that bad of a life. You wouldn't have all the distraction of checking your sell phone every time it beeps or vibrates.

The point is, the car is a modern convenience and can be problematic. Pretty much all modern conveniences can be categorized this way. We adjust to life with them.

At 5:35 PM, October 06, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It's not about the average temps, but the extremes and how often the spread moves far from that mean. Honolulu's average is 77F - would most people say they're more unpleasantly hot than Houston?

Just for fun I looked up the average annual temp in Death Valley, CA. 76 degrees F. Sounds pretty reasonable, eh? (clearly cooler than that hellhole Hawaii) Probably a fine place for a pedestrian-oriented community...

At 7:32 PM, October 06, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>It's not about the average temps, but the extremes and how often the spread moves far from that mean.

Houston's extremes cover only about 3.5-4 months during late May through early September. Even during those days, there is plenty of time during early morning and evening hours during which time people are commuting when the temperature is in the high 70's to low 80's.

I can also guarantee you there are people who cab it rather than walk a mile in Chicago when it is 10 degrees out with 40 mph wind gusts. A coat only goes so far - at that point, you need gloves, a mask, earmuffs, long underwear, a scarf, etc. By my calculations, Chicago has about 5 months where the weather can be uncomfortable like this. This is possibly worse than Houston - I know I dislike it more! Yet Chicago has a great transit system.

You want a place that is almost as hot as Houston with great transit? Try Madrid, which has 2 months of 90+ weather, and one of the most extensive transit systems in the world.

At 8:49 PM, October 06, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I remember one summer on a project with McKinsey downtown where rather than walk the direct 5 blocks outside and sweat through my suit, I'd go 4 blocks out of my way through the tunnel system to stay in the A/C.

Cold weather is just not comparable, because you can bundle up for it in ways you can't for heat. I agree it's miserable in Chicago, but you can drop your coat, scarf, hat, etc. when you get to the office and still be in presentable professional attire. Not so much if you sweat-soak your suit.

Madrid is a reasonably good example, although it evidently has much lower humidity ( ) - which makes a big difference. You're also dealing with a very old city not built for the car, so transit is essential and not really optional for most people. Houston has always been built around the car, so it's much, much harder to convince people to suffer slow and hot transit+walking when the air-conditioned car is such a compelling alternative.

All that said, I still agree we should be able to create a handful of nice, walkable areas. It just won't be the city standard.

At 9:38 AM, October 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what I'm hearing here is that Tory and kjb find walking around outside inconvenient, which is fine for them, but there are many of us here who are willing to walk and would like to be able to.

"It just won't be the city standard."

Why does there have to be a "city standard"? My problem is that right now, pedestrian-friendly developments are PROHIBITED by the city. Yes, I know you can get a variance, but this is a cumbersome barrier that makes things overly difficult.

Tory, I think you and I can both agree that the ideal environment would be one where the regulations don't favor one over the other, and the market is able to decide.

At 5:52 PM, October 07, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> "one where the regulations don't favor one over the other, and the market is able to decide."



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